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Wargaming, An IRL Tactica


There’s a lot of discussion on this site about modelling, painting, army building and tabletop tactics, but there are a few key parts of the hobby that I feel have been left relatively untouched. Namely money, tabletop etiquette, and how to explain the hobby to others without sounding weird. So I thought I’d give my take on each of these.

(I’ll be using 40K in my examples, but that’s because it’s the game I play most. Most of this really applies to all wargames)


Wargaming is expensive, let’s face it, we fork out huge sums of money for what most people see as toy soldiers. There are a few ways you can help to minimize the impact of the game on your wallet, however.

BUY THE CODEX BEFORE YOU BUY THE MODELS. Before you start buying models, you need to buy the rule-books, read them, and plan out your army. This way you don’t end up with a bunch of models you don’t need, or useless models with the wrong war-gear. If you’re having trouble planning your army, have a look around the internet for advice, you’ll find tonnes. Especially here, on DakkaDakka, and other such friendly forum communities.

BE MINDFUL OF MONEY WHEN WRITING UP YOUR ARMY LIST. So, you’re writing up your new Chaos Marine army, and you have 15 points left. “Perfect!”, you think. “I’ll just whack one more Marine into my footslogging squad, bringing them up to 11, right?” Wrong. Chaos marines come in boxes of 10, and including that extra Marine will probably end up forcing you to buy another entire squad. You’re much better off spending those extra points on war-gear. Sure, your army may not have that competitive edge, but most games we play are in a casual environment anyway, and this way you can afford food too!

EBAY IS YOUR FRIEND. Models don’t come with the right guns? You will generally be able to find any bitz you need on eBay. Make sure you check the feedback on the seller, so you won’t get ripped off, and such sellers often combine shipping, so try to buy all your bitz at once. I generally find I’ll pay between 1 and 4 dollars per bit, and while this may seem a bit steep for a single gun, it beats buying another entire squad any day.

Tabletop Etiquette

There are certain unspoken protocols among war-gamers about the way you act while playing, and if you want other people to continue to play with you, it’s better to listen to them.

IT’S ONLY A GAME. If you take war-games too seriously, people will start refusing to play with you. It should be about fun, not winning. If you have to roll 4 saves for your meganobz, and you roll three 1s, you should laugh it off, not get angry, your luck will turn around. I've seen a single Imperial Guard sergeant route a squad of Terminators off a board edge before. If you take these moments the right way, they’ll be funny moments you remember for ages, instead of dissolving into arguments. Try to find common ground with your opponent too. If you’re both still limping after last week's Metallica concert, your Speed Freekz should be screeching around the table to the tune of Fuel. As long as you’re having fun, it doesn't matter how many kill points you lose by.

HYPERCOMPETITIVE ARMIES. You may think your new Death Guard are awesome, but after your best friend's 800th lasgun shot bounces off and he still hasn't caused a casualty, he’ll probably disagree. If you plan to collect an army that is bound to win most games, it is best to get the permission of the other gamers you play with. They’ll rarely say no.

“CHEATING.” You may think it’s awesome that Games Workshop left out a comma, allowing you to deliberately misinterpret the rules to your advantage. No one else does. Doing this will inevitably make you a pariah. Other things that fall into this category are conveniently forgetting to tell your opponent about your new support HQ's game-changing ability, or having your squads have different war-gear against every opponent. We all know players who do this, and we all hate them. A few words of advice on dealing with them:

A. Don’t sink down to their level. Play clean, play fair, and rise above it.

B. Take the little victories. You will rarely, if ever, beat players who do this. They almost always know the rules better than you. Enjoy what you can. E.g. The first time I came up against Eldrad, my opponent conveniently forgot to tell me that he allowed him to redeploy nearly half his army. Consequently my orks were stuck in the open and slaughtered. However, I did manage to run down Eldrad with a deffrolla on the last turn. I walked away from that game smiling, because the universe's greatest psyker just got killed by a green monkey with a steamroller.

C. Avoid being too aggressive. If your opponent is blatantly cheating, try catching them out by saying something like this “Hey, that model looks great, and it works so well. Can I check out the rules? I kinda wanna pick up a squad myself.” They’ll know they've been caught, even if they refuse to let you look at their codex.

The Hobby Itself

This is by far the hardest topic I’ll be trying to cover. How do I explain this game to those that aren’t interested, without looking like that creepy guy who’s gonna live in his mum’s* basement forever. This can be a particular issue for those of us still in high school.

YOU’RE A NERD. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you are. I am. People are going to call you out on it. If you act ashamed of it, if you try and hide it, you will be victimized because of it. Accept it. If someone calls you a nerd, your best bet is to smile, laugh, agree, and walk off. (A personal favourite response of mine is “Yeah, and I get a +2 bonus to Intelligence, what perks does your class get?” This works very well if there are other gamers around.) Odds are you’ll get a better job than the people bullying you, and you’ll be popular once you get to university, trust me ;)

EXPLAINING THE HOBBY. This can be tricky. I think I’ll try explaining with an anecdote. One of my friends came over to my house to study the night before a genetics exam. She saw a half painted Leman Russ on my desk, and she asked why I had a toy tank. My explanation was as follows: “Me and a few friends play a game called Warhammer. Basically you build and paint your own armies, then you battle them on little boards. Each model has rules like it can move this far, shoot this far (I made vague indications with my hands). I know it’s really nerdy, but it’s fun.” She considered that, accepted it, and then complimented me on the Russes paint job. That’s all you need to say. Never, ever try to explain any of the rules. If someone asks specifically, just say “It’s based on dice, like if you shoot at someone, you might need to roll a 4 or higher to hit. It’s really complicated, don’t worry about it.” If you want to describe something from a game, explain it as though it was scene from a book or a movie. Everyone has seen Lord Of The Rings, so they should have a semi-vague idea of what you’re talking about. The most important thing is not to ramble. Keep any talk about the game short, less than a minute, and generally people will accept it as an interesting quirk.

GIRLS. This can be the hardest part of the hobby for many of us. I've been dating this girl for a while now, how do I tell her I play with toy soldiers? Generally the best thing to do is say something like, I can’t go out on Thursday, me and a few friends are playing this game called Warhammer... (See my guide to explaining the hobby above) Generally girls will react in one of four ways. I’ll list them from worst to best.

A. She’ll dump you. This has never happened to me, though I have heard of it happening. In all honesty, if it does happen, the relationship wouldn't have ended well anyway. She would've found out sooner or later. Besides, do you really want a girlfriend who doesn't even tolerate your (favorite) hobby?

B. She’ll try and get you to stop playing. This has happened to me. Your best option here is to not bring it up around her. (This is if you really like her. If you’re not that fussed, just tell her to cut it out) She’ll get over it pretty quickly.

C. She just won’t bring it up. In this case, your life pretty much goes on as before, just try not to bring it up around her too much

D. She’ll treat it as an interesting quirk, and perhaps even grow fond of the fact of you play it. This is by far the most common reaction if she really likes you. She will almost definitely tease you about playing the game, but you need to realize, she’s actually showing affection for you, just in an odd way. My girlfriend likes to put on fake sorrow and go on about how I love my Orks more than her, but on my birthday, after consulting one of my friends who plays, she got me a custom shirt that says “Da Red Wunz Go Fasta!”

You’ll also probably find that as you get older, girls become more accepting of it. I dated a girl in high school that hated the fact that I played 40K, but a few months ago I got pretty sick so she came over to visit me, and was actually really impressed by a Warboss I was converting (She’s an architecture student now).

Anyway, that’s my take on a few other aspects of the hobby. Thanks for putting up with me for this long. Keep rolling sixes :) .

  • To the Americans out there, I spell mum this way because I’m Australian, and yes, I do eat vegemite.


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